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Gov. Christie, I was you -- listen to the docs

By Bryan Monroe, CNN
updated 9:46 AM EST, Fri February 8, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Chris Christie says a doctor who commented on his weight should "shut up"
  • Bryan Monroe says the governor should not dismiss her advice so quickly
  • Monroe says he was morbidly obese until he experienced a health crisis
  • He says decisive action led him to lose 170 pounds, which improved his health

Editor's note: Bryan Monroe is editor of CNNPolitics.com

(CNN) -- Gov. Chris Christie, we watched as you lashed out at former White House physician Dr. Connie Mariano this week for calling you out about your weight during a recent CNN report.

It's none of her business, you proclaimed. She's just a "hack," you offered. She needs to just "shut up," you said.

Governor, you might not want to dismiss her so quickly. Yes, she has never examined you and maybe it's not her job to be pointing out the obvious: that morbidly obese men have a significantly higher chance of dying early than the population at large. But, still, she was probably doing you a favor.

How do I know? Seven years ago, governor, I was you.

Bryan Monroe
Bryan Monroe

Sure, I wasn't the popular chief executive of a major state and a leading Republican possibility for president. But, back then, I was busy, with a pretty full life in my own right.

In 2006, I was a corporate executive of a major media company. I had just helped lead the team in Biloxi, Mississippi, covering Hurricane Katrina, an effort that led to The Sun Herald winning the Pulitzer Prize for public service. I was the president of the National Association of Black Journalists, the largest journalism organization of people of color in America.

And, at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 441 pounds, I was morbidly obese.

I'm not going to get into your specific health situation -- you said your numbers are "great" and you were the "healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life" -- and no lay person can speak confidently about the state of another person's health.

Bryan Monroe in Biloxi, Miss. during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Bryan Monroe in Biloxi, Miss. during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

All I can say is that I and thousands of other morbidly obese men in their 30s and 40s have uttered exactly the same words. Almost verbatim. We feel great. We have plenty of energy. Low cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure. Blah, blah, blah.

Then, I ended up in intensive care, on the edge of a coma.

Nearly a decade ago, after having received a pretty decent physical a few months earlier, I was in Washington for a conference. One morning, I was unusually thirsty, lethargic and tired, and ended up being rushed to the emergency room at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

Ketoacidosis, the doctors said. Significantly elevated blood sugar levels, too much for the body to process. Not good. Bryan, they told me, you were in serious trouble.

Does being overweight determine health?
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And that got my attention.

Governor, like you, I have kids whom I cherish -- they were 5 and 4 at the time. They are my life. But the doctors told me if I kept going down the path I was headed, I would likely not be around to watch them graduate from high school. I certainly did not like hearing that -- thought they were being rude and overly blunt -- but I knew the doctors were right.

Opinion: What you thought you knew about obesity is wrong

So, in 2006, I made a pretty major decision to have gastric bypass surgery. And I believe it saved my life.

Since then, I have lost more than 170 pounds. Now, I'm not Barack Obama-skinny -- I still need to drop another 30 or 40 more to hit my goal -- but I am much happier and healthier. And I can now hang with my 11-year-old son on the basketball court.

My decision, like yours, was deeply personal. But I'm also a reporter. I did my research. I knew that obesity was the single biggest health risk in this country, and that more than one of every three Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For African Americans, obesity is the largest contributor to deadly complications -- hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, amputation, blindness -- that our community has ever known.

I knew that the most morbidly obese men who were successful enough to lose 100 pounds or more tended to gain all of it back -- plus another 20% more -- within five years. It wasn't that they were lazy or bad or undisciplined. It was just plain, biological facts. So, at seven years out, I feel lucky.

Now, I am not about to proselytize about such a dramatic move. While techniques have improved considerably in the past 20 years, the bariatric option is still a major procedure in which as many as two out of every 100 patients die on the operating table or soon after the surgery. It's still a big deal.

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If I could have been successful with more traditional means, I would have been happy. I had tried everything -- the South Beach diet, the all-juice diet -- and spent more money on gyms, trainers and treadmills than my accountant would approve. But, after a lifetime of fooling myself about this plan or that diet -- I could easily lose 30-40 pounds at a time, only to have it creep back -- I had to make a tough choice.

At the end of the day, each obese person needs to choose his or her own path to get down to a more reasonable and healthier weight. But the alternative, doing nothing, is a recipe for disaster. (How many morbidly obese people in their 80s have you seen lately?)

For me, it wasn't a cosmetic or vanity thing. It was a choice I made so I'd be around to walk my daughter down the aisle or see my son win the Heisman trophy.

Gov. Christie, you talked about being angry that your kids were watching TV when the doctor said she was concerned you'd die in office.

Let me tell you something: It's much better that they hear that and then have you around to explain it to them than have to experience the scary alternative.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Bryan Monroe.

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